By The Associated Press
OXFORD — Ole Miss looked like a team ready to begin Southeastern Conference play Friday night, routing Fordham 95-68 in the final nonconference contest for both teams.
“We’re alive. Not everybody can say their after nonconference games, but we can,” Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said. “We want the SEC schedule to have significance, and it does.”
The Rebels (11-2) put five players in double figures, led by Marshall Henderson with 21 points. The balanced attack included Reginald Buckner with 18 points, Derrick Millinghaus with 16, Murphy Holloway with 15 and Nick Williams with 11.
The Rebels shot 50 percent from the field (33 of 66) and forced 22 Fordham turnovers.
Ryan Canty led Fordham (4-11), of the Atlantic 10 Conference, with 15 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots. Bryan Smith and Mandell Thomas added 14 and 12 points, respectively, for the Rams, who shot 38.8 percent (26 of 67) from the field.
“This team is five points away from being 13-0. We’re close,” Kennedy said. “This team has put itself in position for good things. We can play better and we haven’t played to our potential. This team has a high ceiling.”
That appeared to be the case after Fordham built a 14-13 lead in the opening seven minutes. Ole Miss answered with scoring runs of 10-0 and 12-0 late in the first half to build a 46-35 halftime lead.
Fordham never seriously threatened in the second half. Ole Miss led by as many as 30 points, 91-61 with 3:22 left, after the second of two free throws by Williams.
The Rebels finished 22 of 27 (81.5 percent) from the free throw line and 7 of 16 (43.8 percent) from 3-point range, including three apiece from Henderson and Millinghaus.
The Rebels outrebounded Fordham 39-38, including a game-high 13 by Holloway, while Buckner blocked six shots and made three steals.
Fordham’s Branden Frazier and Chris Gaston, who were averaging 16.4 and 15.1 points per game, respectively, were limited to six points apiece.
Now the heavy lifting, otherwise known as the Southeastern Conference schedule, begins Wednesday at Tennessee as Kennedy’s club continues its pursuit of an NCAA tournament berth. That goal has eluded the Rebels since he took over in 2006.
“The SEC is a grind, and I say that affectionately,” Kennedy said. “Whether it’s at Tennessee or here with Missouri or at Vanderbilt, every game stands on its own. We’ve got to approach it that way. One game at a time. That’s the right approach.”
The Rebels have averaged more than 20 wins each season, won a pair of SEC Western Division titles, earned a handful of NIT berths and appeared twice in that tournament’s final four — but last appeared in the NCAA tournament in 2002.
“We’re ready for the next step,” Buckner said. “We’re ready for the SEC because I want to see where we stand. We know it’s going to be a long season, but we’re a team that never looks back, we just look forward. But we know our team can play better.”